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Volume 1, Issue 4
Winter 2005:

Helping Others, Helping Ourselves

Helen Valencourt

Cell 2 Soul. 2005 Winter; 1(4):a7

While living in Connecticut, a friend asked me if I would be willing to be a paid companion to an elderly couple. As a retired elementary school teacher who had raised three children, I thought, "No, I really know nothing about old folks." Then my friend described the pair as being fun and delightful. She suggested that I meet them over tea at their home. I was delighted to get to know them in their simple log cabin style home on a lovely small country lake. They were gracious, informal and energetic, so I said, "Yes, I'll do it."

For two years I went to their home, helped with housekeeping, cooking, laundry and such, and often drove them to various appointments. I played bridge with Avola and her lady friends, took walks with Ralph in the woods, accompanied them to local country fairs, got to know their children and grandchildren, and we just had fun. I almost felt like one of the family and learned so much from them. We hit it off though they were both in their eighties and I was in my fifties. Eventually, they moved to their winter home in Florida where they died after 65 years of marriage.

This experience gave my life new direction. I moved back to my beloved native town of Williamstown, Massachusetts, and soon became involved in volunteer activities. I trained to become a hospice volunteer and spent time with a number of older patients over the years. I learned a great deal from each of them. Despite fatal illness, usually cancer, they seldom fretted or complained.

One patient, an artist, lay in her bed throughout her final days gazing and smiling at Mt. Greylock just across the way. She said she loved the changes in the clouds and light as they passed. Another lady, to whom I enjoyed reading Alice in Wonderland, would recite with me many of the delightful poems, like Twiddledum and Tweedledee. On the day before she died, I arrived in early morning to find her in bed with her teenage granddaughter, both sound asleep. Noticing the girl's schoolbooks nearby, I woke her up and asked if she were going to school. She said she knew she was late but had put first things first. I was so proud of her and gave her a hug.

In driving many people over the years to oncology centers for their cancer treatments, I've learned that they are not afraid and they don't complain. They have reached a place of peace, tranquility, and acceptance. We talk about all kinds of things other than disease, and they are so appreciative of my driving them and staying during chemo. It always lifts my spirits, especially when I'm occasionally "down in the dumps" about something concerning ME.

In the past twelve years I have been a paid companion to twelve elderly ladies at different times. Each has been a most rewarding experience for me, and each of them has been appreciative of my assistance.

The more we try to think of others, the less concerned we are of our own aches and pains and stupid problems.

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